Former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle won’t face the possibility of a first-degree murder conviction for the fatal shooting of unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III, his trial judge ruled today.
Instead, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry said Mehserle, 28, will face charges of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
Mehserle’s lawyer, Michael Rains, has admitted that Mehserle shot and killed Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, at the Fruitvale station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2009, after he and other officers responded to a report that there was a fight on a train.
But Rains claims the shooting was an accident and Mehserle, who is free on $3 million bail, meant to use his Taser stun gun on Grant.
Testimony in Mehserle’s trial concluded on Tuesday, and Rains and prosecutor David Stein will present their closing arguments on Thursday. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating Mehserle’s fate late Thursday or on Friday morning.
Stein had wanted to give jurors the option of convicting Mehserle of first-degree murder, but Perry ruled he didn’t present enough evidence to show Mehserle acted with premeditation when he shot Grant.
Rains meanwhile wanted to gamble on only giving jurors the choice of convicting Mehserle of second-degree murder or acquitting him of all charges.
In a brief filed late last week, Rains said voluntary manslaughter shouldn’t be an option for jurors because he believes there is no evidence that Mehserle was provoked and acted rashly and in the heat of passion.
He also said there was no evidence Mehserle believed his life was in imminent danger and shot Grant in an act of unreasonable self-defense.
“There is no substantial evidence that Mehserle was grossly reckless, that is, that the shooting was the result of some conduct on the officer’s part beyond the simple mistaken firing of the gun,” Rains said.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Mehserle would face 15 years to life in prison, plus the possibility of another 25 years if jurors also find that he purposely fired a gun while committing the murder.
The sentence for voluntary manslaughter ranges from 3 to 11 years, and the sentence for involuntary manslaughter is from 2 to 4 years.
If Mehserle had faced first-degree murder charges, he could have faced a total sentence of 50 years to life: 25 years to life for first-degree murder and another 25 years for purposely firing a gun.